I considered it carefully, and finally decided that I would post this thought from yesterday.
If you’ve ever lived in or near Milwaukee, you probably know that the city is extremely (and mysteriously, from an outsider’s perspective) divided along racial lines, manifested most directly through geography. The physical separation of blacks and whites (there are others, but let’s focus on the Big Two) makes the intermingling of the races a tenuous affair at best.
I think the most common response of white people in Milwaukee is to pretend there’s not actually a problem, and that the racial/social/economic divisions are some sort of mysterious coincidence. Most white people, I think, like to believe that they received license to stop worrying about race somewhere around 1970 (at least way up north here in Wisconsin, by God).
My speculation, based on interactions and observations I’ve had, is that most black people are going to be guarded, and cautiously suspicious in interactions with whites, which is completely understandable in a city whose casual racism simmers just below the surface.
Ultimately, what you end up with are interactions that are cordial in appearance, but where one or both parties has a proverbial finger on the trigger, just waiting for the slightest reason to write the other off as the personification of a racial stereotype.
I don’t think of myself as a racist. However, I do know that my hyper-awareness of the existence of the race problem in this city probably affects the way that I am in interracial encounters. I don’t know how to resolve this, other than to give it time.
One thing that’s definitely not going to help is events such as what transpired at work today. I’m sure that it’s not appropriate for me to say much about it, but the short version is, a student who I legitimately could not remember working with claims that I promised something I could not/would not have promised, gave me a total of four hours to look into it, then went to folks much further up the chain to accuse me of discrimination.
I think that this situation escalating so far so fast has a lot more to do with the climate in Milwaukee than with me personally. I really believe that if my skin and the student’s were the same color, these accusations would not have been made.
I’m trying my best, but this is just another one of those things that makes me wish I wasn’t here. I don’t have the solution to 150 years of history in my pocket. If I did, I’d be doing something else.
Lacking overwhelming praise or accolades, I prefer anonymity, and for that, I’m probably in the wrong job. I know that sounds naive or selfish. But, this is what I’ve been thinking about today.